Monday, July 2, 2018

Watching the Hugos: Professional and Fan Artist

Welcome back to our ongoing series of Watching the Hugos: 2018 Edition! Today we're doubling up Professional Artist and Fan Artist into one post because how I think about art and artists don't quite line up perfectly well with the format I've used for the read of the Reading the Hugos series. You'll note that I'm using the "Watching the Hugos" title, which isn't quite right but is the closest I could figure out in order to have consistency across the various categories. It'll do. Let's take a look at who the finalists are and then we'll get into a little bit of commentary. For each category, my evaluation is based on the submissions to the Voter's Packet.

Finalists for Professional Artist
Galen Dara
Kathleen Jennings
Bastien Lecouffe Deharme
Victo Ngai
John Picacio
Sana Takeda

Finalists for Fan Artist
Geneva Benton
Grace P. Fong
Maya Hahto
Likhain (M. Sereno)
Spring Shoenhuth
Steve Stiles

The top of the ballot for Professional Artist was very difficult to rack and stack. There’s just some stellar work being done here and there isn’t really a bad choice to be made. All six of the artists are simply excellent.

Galen Dara’s work is stunning as always. I’ve admired her art for years, but from top to bottom in the voter’s packet, this is top of the line art. Likewise, Victo Ngai is quickly becoming of my favorite artists today. Her style is distinctive, but clear. If you remember th
e cover of Amberlough, you have an idea of the stylistic choices she is making in the art she produced last year. It’s fantastic. John Picacio’s Loteria cards are some of the best work of his career and I highly recommend everyone check them out. I’ve followed Picacio for more than a decade and have always been a fan, but between Loteria and his covers for Uncanny, he’s producing some damn fine work.

I first heard of Bastien Lecouffe Deharme when Terry Goodkind decided to publicly blast the cover artist for his latest novel and a vast wave of the internet rose up in the artist’s defense. I had never heard of Lecouffe Deharme before, so I looked up his work and was impressed. Apparently, so were enough Hugo nominators because lo, Bastien Lecouffe Deharme is a finalist for Professional Artist. His work is really good and, as shabby as he was treated by Goodkind, he deserves this moment in the spotlight.

Sana Takeda has a very distinctive style. Her covers for The Dark Crystal are such that, if you’ve read Monstress but didn’t know who the artist was, you’d immediately know that Monstress and The Dark Crystal were drawn by the same artist. Distinctive and excellent. The art of Kathleen Jennings is likewise excellent, but evokes a superficially simpler style. I wouldn’t say that it is simpler, but it isn’t as flashy or performative as some of the work done by the other artists in this category.

My Ballot for Professional Artist
1. Galen Dara
2. Victo Ngai
3. John Picacio
4. Bastien Lecouffe Deharme
5. Sana Takeda
6. Kathleen Jennings

I really love Geneva Benton’s included work here. Her cover for Fiyah Magazine Issue 3 is absolutely one of my favorite pieces of art from last year and even if it was the only included piece, it would be enough to put her at the top of my ballot. It’s not, and there are more great pieces of art, but damn, that cover. Likhain continues to impress, her work would very much fit in on the Professional Artist ballot.

Most of Maya Hahto’s included work is related to pieces created for Worldcon 75 themed around the Ursa bear imagery the convention utilized, but the two standouts are a pencil drawing of author Nalo Hopkinson and a stunning oil painting she created for the Worldcon 75. Those two pieces are absolutely stellar. Grace P. Fong’s contributions are concept work for Uncanny Magazine’s Year 3 Kickstarter – and the some side-headshots which seems like a concept for a much larger work that I’d like to see more of.

One of the interesting things about the Fan Artist category is that the perennial inclusion of Spring Schoenhuth represents the possibility of the category and how it can represent a much wider variety of art that simple “cover art” and the style of art we most often see in both the professional and fan artist categories. Schoenhuth does metalwork and the pieces, at least from pictures, are fantastic. That they’re not really my thing does not lessen the high quality of the work.

Then there’s Steve Stiles. Very much an institution in this category, Stiles is a fifteen time finalist for Fan Artist and was awarded the Hugo in 2016 (which, I should probably note, is one of the years the ballot was heavily papered with Sad and Rabid Puppy selections and Stiles was the only Non-Puppy finalist in this category.) Honestly, I don’t see the appeal to Stiles’s work. He is part of the traditional fanzine scene and I think there is a lot of recognition based on that segment of fandom, which is fine. There is a place at the table for most styles of art, but I don’t appreciation his work and I just can’t put it above No Award.

Compared to Professional Artist, it was easier to rank Fan Artist. Benton and Likhain are a step above the rest, though I would love to see more work from Maya Hahto like the two pieces I called out above.

My Ballot for Fan Artist
1. Geneva Benton
2. Likhain
3. Maya Hahto
4. Grace P. Fong
5. Spring Schoenhuth
6. No Award

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POSTED BY: Joe Sherry - Co-editor of Nerds of a Feather, 2017 & 2018 Hugo Award Finalist for Best Fanzine. Minnesotan.